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Solid theory? Don't bet on it

Joe O'Shea doesn't gamble. This was evident from the Corkonian's Reality Bites documentary The Gambling Gene.

Lacking the steely certainty of the seasoned gambler who knows as he's about to put pencil to paper on a betting slip that he's making the right choice (until it turns out to be the wrong choice), Joe never seemed sure which horse to back.

Was the film a critique of our presumed national propensity for a flutter, an investigation into the phenomenal growth of the gambling industry, or an exploration of the destructive side of a gambling habit?

In the end it straddled all of these, without ever convincingly driving any of them across the finish line.

"We've always been a nation of risk takers," said Joe. His assertion seemed to be based on our fondness for the National Lottery, our enthusiasm for taking out massive mortgages during the boom, and the explosion in online gambling -- which is surely as much of a global phenomenon as a domestic one.

"We love gambling," insisted journalist and author Declan Lynch, who wrote a book about online gambling called Free Money. Nick Leeson, the former derivatives broker who caused the collapse of Barings Bank by fraudulently gambling $1.4bn of its money on the Tokyo stock market, concurred.

Where else but in Ireland, he ventured, would someone like businessman, racehorse owner and former bookmaker JP McManus be regarded as a national hero?

Go easy on the generalisations there, boys. Not everybody is as nuts about horseflesh as the RTE sports bulletins seem to think we are, while a few of us -- and I'm speaking as someone whose late father loved a flutter on the gee-gees, as does my brother -- find gambling more of a bore than a buzz.

But maybe I'm looking for too much substance, and maybe Joe was, too. The Gambling Gene worked best as an account of an innocent brushing up against a world he can't quite fathom.

He was granted access to the nerve centre of Paddy Power's HQ, which boasts the kind of analytical technology any university lab would bet its last cent to have.

Joe was invited to look at pictures while a computer tracked his eye movements. "Exactly what's being tested here?" he asked. The results revealed his eyes were all over Halle Berry, but paid only fleeting attention to Daniel Craig.

He sat in on an international poker tournament, despite not having the slightest clue about the game, and enjoyed a brief run of beginner's luck. Lynne Scarfe from TCD's Science Gallery told him that gambling addicts get a rush of dopamine, much like skydivers do when they leap from a plane.

In the company of academic and "risk intelligence" expert Dylan Evans, Joe proved remarkably good at guessing whether passengers at a train station were rural or urban.

Less successful was his chat with former Armagh player Oisin McConville, whose gambling addiction almost destroyed him. It seemed to belong in a different film.

I wasn't convinced, either, by the film's attempt to liken the behaviour of the bankers who destroyed the country to that of the average gambler.

Whatever drives a punter putting €20 each way on a rank outsider, it's most likely not rampant greed, arrogance or megalomania.

Daytime drama on the BBC is alive and kicking, if not exactly screaming.

The first in the new series of Moving On, a batch of standalone dramas from the Jimmy McGovern stable, featured Matthew Kelly and Barbara Murray as a couple whose attempt to sell their house is disrupted when the widow of a young man run over in the street turns the spot into a flower-littered shrine.

For much of its length it was delicious black comedy, and then slushy sentimentality kicked in. Still, a whole lot better than the usual afternoon fare.



REALITY BITES: THE GAMBLING GENE HHHII MOVING ON HHIII